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Opponents of CRTC's false-news proposal bombard website

CRTC Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein listens to Quebecor Inc. present at the CRTC hearings in Gatineau, Que., on Wednesday November 18, 2009.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Canada's broadcasting regulator has received more than 3,000 responses from the public about its plan to change a regulation that prohibits the dissemination of false or misleading news, most of them passionately opposing the proposal.

The comments are posted on the website of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

"If implemented, this change will throw wide the doors to the lies and manipulation of Fox News-style television; if implemented, this change will usher in an era in which venomous, fact-eschewing news media will shape the destiny of Canada," writes one woman from Toronto.

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"I fail to understand why the CRTC would consider such a move, and I cannot see how this would help Canadians better understand the various issues facing our country," writes a man from British Columbia.

Under the proposed new wording of the regulation, broadcasters would be prevented from spreading false or misleading news only in situations where they know the information is untrue and it "endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public."

A spokeswoman for the CRTC said Thursday that all of the comments will be taken into consideration as decisions are made about the proposal.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary committee that demanded the change will discuss the issue next week - more than a decade after it first told the CRTC that its regulation was problematic.

Despite the outcry, the joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations is unlikely to back down, said Liberal MP Derek Lee, a long-time committee member.

"The fact that a lot of Canadians are concerned about this means we will have to handle it carefully at committee. We represent them," Mr. Lee said in a telephone interview Thursday.

"But our main function is to assure legal compliance of all government regulations. I think we will simply proceed with the files as they are, put on the record our response, and acknowledge the desire of the public to do everything we can to assure truth in broadcasting.…"

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It is the job of the joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations to tell government departments and organizations when they make regulations that are beyond their scope or violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"We have said to the CRTC that they don't have authority to attach the kind of condition that would make the CRTC a censor or a policeman," said Mr. Lee, "And irrespective of whether the statute authorized that or not, the regulation that they put in place takes away a Charter-based freedom, it impinges on it in some way, and therefore it would be illegal."

A 1992 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel said the right to freedom of expression meant a person could not be charged for disseminating false information.

"Most Canadians say, 'Oh my God, this is a radio station, we can't let them say stuff that's false,' " Mr. Lee said. "And I understand the logic of that. But my response is, well, in law, we actually can't do that. And there are other legal processes to deal with falsity - libel, slander and there are some other Criminal Code things…We shouldn't be asking the issuer of [a broadcast]licence to be a policeman in a way that diminishes a Charter right."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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